October usually welcomes plenty of turn-off-your-brain-and-watch horror films, and director Christopher Landon‘s Happy Death Day seemed to be no exception. In what was previewed to be a mindless hacker-slasher, my expectations were low. Surpringly, this one wasn’t absolutely unbearable.
But it wasn’t very good, either, barring a performance by an actress that I envision exceeding outside the constrains of Happy Death Day.
The premise of this film is simple enough: Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is introduced as a college student and full-time sorority girl. Tree goes down the list of “Things to do as a typical jerk in college,” including laughing at the downfalls of other students, sleeping with random guys and being rude to ’em the following morning (because sorority life, according to this film) and even aiding in the bullying of another student trying to join their sorority. It’s all an obvious recipe for the whole “Oh, she had it coming” angle some basic horror films employ.
Eventaully, Tree ditches the sorority girl facade after a mysterious killer hiding behind the mask of the school’s mascot follows her into a tunnel. It’s a very cartoonish-looking baby, and it’s really not menacing at all.
After this baby-faced killer — see what I did there? — slays our main gal, Tree wakes up yet again to what is a repeat of the same day she had just lived. The idea is fine enough for what seemed to be your run-of-the-mill horror film, it’s just that the execution isn’t all there by Landon. For the duration of Happy Death Day, we see time and time again that the film plays to generic horror tropes and predictable turn of events. The audience knows when the scares will occur due to the sound design and predictable shot selection, which practically walks viewers through the motions. It’s all more of the same.
Although, the film wasn’t a total loss to the point I wanted to walk out of the theater. Rothe saved any glimmer of hope this film grasped onto. In a smarter horror film, I can see her thriving. She’s the only positive takeaway, and I’m hoping she gets a role that does her a bit more justice.
That’s it — that’s the only positive in Happy Death Day. From the score to the shot selection, this film is greatly flawed. The concept is really worn at this point in the game, making for a film that you’d rather see end in an hour or less. Rather, the film forces generic fodder into its script, like cheesy one-liners and cringe-worthy jokes that sometimes are simply offensive (See: character mocking the hearing impaired).
What’s worse: the supporting cast can’t hold a candle to Rothe, which hurt the cast’s chemistry midway throughout the film. Actor Israel Broussard plays Carter Davis, the student whose dorm Tree wakes up inside of each time her day resets. There’s also Lori (Ruby Modine), Tree’s roommate, and Danielle (Rachel Matthews), Tree’s outcast sorority sister/leader. None of these characters were meant to be taken seriously, but the script really tries to force the ledger in terms of emotion. We have to suffer through Tree and Carter trying to play-up the whole “love-comes-full-circle” angle, and it falls flat on its face. They’re here, and The film tries its hardest to evoke anger within the audience by giving us all the ammo to hate the Stereotypical college/Greek life antics, but it just didn’t work.
On the technical front, cinematographer Toby Oliver tried to embody what we saw from his work with Get Out — you know, clever angles, fun cuts to the action. In the case of Happy Death Day, I was underwhelmed. There’s an attempt at creativity, with a sideways shot that follows Tree down long hallways during a couple of sequences. Even that doesn’t do enough to add to a film that desperately needed a unique touch to stand-out in a crowded month of horror.
Happy Death Day would’ve been a halfway decent film if it stuck to a shlocky hack-and-slash film. Again, the direction and unsuccessful scares keeps this horror film in the “skip” category, serving as a forgettable tale that needed to be kept inside Landon’s head rather than spilled onto the Silver Screen.
I was treated to a press screening for the purposes of this review, thanks to Sly Fox and Universal Pictures. ❤
“Happy Death Day” is rated PG-13, runs 1 hour and 36 minutes and releases in theaters on Oct. 13, 2017 (Friday the 13th! Spooooky!)